In the lore of contemporary history, politics and even to a material extent, in literature, one of the most used and abused clichés is the one associated with the tenet of ‘nationalism’. Clothed in aggression, suggestive of a seething mode of activism and couched with anarchic undertones, the word nationalism is often succeeded by aggressive companions such as fervor, vigour, passion, pride and a whole horde of other similar sounding accoutrements.
What triggered this peculiar juxtaposition of nationalism with its attendant rigidities and notions? Is a new breed of nationalism unraveling its powerful roots and wielding its sweeping influence upon an unsuspecting new world seamlessly bound together by the forces of globalization and socio-political integration? These are exactly some of the questions which John B. Judis addresses in an unbiased and practical manner in his latest book, “The Nationalist Revival” (“the book”).
Although tracing the contours of the very concept of nationalism with a view to distinguish the word as it was espoused at its origin, from the morphed version that stares us in the eye today, the book can by no means be construed to be a treatise on the subject. It is more an informed dissection of the direction nationalism has taken and the divergent paths that it has traversed, than an academic bone dry dissection of the very term. This is the single most important element that makes the book so readable and thought provoking. Asserting that “national identity I not just a product of where a person is born or emigrated to, but of deeply held sentiments that are usually acquired during childhood”, Mr. Judis traces the psychology of nationalism that had the entire population chocked in a vice like grip resulting ultimately, in two World Wars of monumental and tragic proportions. It was to curb and contain this very breed of ‘fascist’ nationalism that the world came together post the World Wars to develop institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (“IMF”), the World Bank, NATO and such other likes. The vision of Spinelli and Monnet, universally regarded to be the founding fathers of the European Union had at its core this philosophy:
To avoid of “the recurrence of another world war, the European nations would have to cede their sovereignty to a supra national federation. Nationalism was inherently toxic”.
However, just when it seemed that this toxic genre of nationalism which was the very scourge of humanity was finally eradicated, it has resurrected and this time the revival is much deadlier and dangerous than what could have been envisaged by the prophets of doom. This mutant form of nationalism has found its métier in the Brexit of The United Kingdom Independent Party; the blatant racial prerogatives of Donald Trump in the USA; the exhortations of Marine Le Pen in France and the inclusive polices of Victor Orban in Hungary. So what is it that has manifested this unruly and vituperative shape of nationalism that has for a hear a narrow minded narrative and for a spine, repressive ideologies? What has happened so abruptly so as to leave the visions of Spinelli and Monnet in tatters? Citing various economic, social and geopolitical factors, Mr. Judis unearths the various trigger points and causes leading to the undesirable consequences that lay spread before us.
From following disparate and discriminating economic policies in the Eurozone whose consequences as brilliantly described by economic sociologist Wolfgang Streek, is that, “qualitative horizontal diversity is transformed into a quantitative vertical inequality”, this fuels nationalism of an aggressive albeit logical vein in the demand starved countries such as Greece, Spain and Italy. Merciless imposition of austerity leads to a manifold increase in the sentiments of nationality.
Similarly, divergent and uninformed beliefs regarding the policies of immigration stoke passions that are communal and polarize extreme advocates right down the middle. As Mr.Judis points out, post the publication of the controversial book titled “Germany Abolishes Itself” by a banking official and member of the Social Democrats in Germany, Thilo Sarrazin, the outlook on Germany’s benevolent policy of opening the gates to refugees flocking towards Europe from the Middle East and Asia, underwent a volte face. The ultra-nationalist party Alternative fur Deutschland, which was formed in 2013 became the official opposition party in Parliament, possessing the entitlement to chair the powerful Budget Committee, following the September 2017 National Elections.
Similar is the case with the rabid immigration and tariff outlook that is the inimitable prerogative of the irascible Donald Trump. Taking advantage of a disenchanted blue collared segment, hung out to fry following a massive loss of unemployment and a savage Recession the likes of which was last seen in the Great Depression of 1929, Trump evoked a sense of rampant nationalism in the “Rust Belts” which saw him sweep to power in a ludicrous 2016 Presidential election that was marred by controversies and tarnished by seedy campaigns. These alarming signs that have materialized uniformly across the globe are, as per Mr. Judis, representative of what the great psychologist Sigmund Freud called “the return of the repressed”. Mr. Judis, paraphrasing Freud states, “this occurs when instinctual impulses – or in this case very ordinary nationalist sentiments – are completely blocked from expression because of their association with aberrant, ugly desires, only to return in their most primitive, brutal form”.
The advocates of nationalism justify their belief in the concept with an element of pride and prejudice, with a sense of delight and disenchantment and in the anticipation of both delight and dread. This paradoxical tug and pull of nationalism treads a very delicate tightrope. Even a tiny slip up is sufficient to bring about a catastrophe whose unintended consequences may well be unimaginable. And it is this very consequence that Mr. Judis warns us about in his illuminating book.
Meanwhile, after successfully provoking a vitriolic form of nationalism following his public appearance in the company of Turkish Prime Minister, Raycip Erdogan, World Cup winning German midfielder Mesut Ozil has announced his retirement from international football, citing disbelief and expressing outrage at allegations of misplaced patriotism and misconstrued intentions!